guillermo del toro

Guillermo del Toro and The Chainsmokers, Part 1

At the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Guillermo del Toro was awarded ‘Best Director’ for his work on The Shape of Water, a beautiful film about love in the face of bigotry and the inspiration for a thousand unfunny jokes on Twitter. In his sweetly triumphant acceptance speech, del Toro spoke eloquently about his career and how important movies have been to him, mentioning that on several occasion, they actually saved his life. Of films, del Toro said:

“As directors, these things are not just entries in a filmography. We have made a deal with a particularly inefficient devil that trades three years of our lives for one entry on IMDB. And these things are biography, and they are life.”

Guillermo del Toro is arguing that his films are worth something, that they’re more than just a product made to fill up space on Netflix. It probably goes without saying, but this is certainly true in del Toro’s case. He’s always been beloved in certain circles, but this year he seems to have reached a new level of mainstream attention. His work is being celebrated and understood as the work of a true artist, and his films are being discussed and appreciated in a manner befitting the time and effort he’s put into them.

But it doesn’t always work out that way.

It’s well understood that the majority of artists, including some who equal and even surpass del Toro’s ability, toil in obscurity for their entire lives without ever receiving the attention their work deserves. The phrase “toil in obscurity” exists primarily to describing this exact situation. Ironically, many artists who are now household names fell into this category. Herman Melville forever changed the way novels were written, but Moby Dick sold only a few thousand copies while he was alive. Vincent Van Gogh is among the most well-known painters of all time, but went basically unnoticed until he killed himself. Edgar Allen Poe and Franz Kafka essentially created entire new genres of fiction with their work, but both died unrecognized and poor.

Of course, these examples are, by their very existence, somewhat ill-fitting, because those mentioned did eventually receive the recognition they deserve; it was too late for them to appreciate the newfound recognition, but their work continues to endure. But more common by far is the creator whose obscurity only continues and intensifies after their death. It is impossible to say exactly how many brilliant pieces of art have gone unnoticed by anyone, but the number is probably high enough that it would be overwhelming and depressing even if we somehow had the accurate statistics.

This is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. Every level-headed creative person endeavors under the knowledge that the odds of success are staggeringly low. A massive cloud of failure hangs over us all, ready to swoop down and erase all our efforts from history, like a dust-storm descending on the American midwest or a swarm of locust descending upon the Egyptians. It’s a bad scene.

Social media has changed this, but not by much. Maybe there was a moment, early on, when anyone with the knowledge and foresight to game the still-developing system could launch themselves to stardom. When the internet first gained prominence, it was a new and exciting avenue of self-promotion, but with the new ubiquity of social media, it’s now pretty much the only game in town. If you want people to lay eyes (or ears) on something you’ve made, it has to go online. And now that everyone is online, the novelty is gone and the playing field is even once again (as even as it ever is, I mean), but with a brand-new, additional layer of humiliation that we must endure if we want people to see what we’ve made: likes.

Or retweets. Or comments. Or subscriptions. Whatever form it takes on your platform of choice, it all boils down to a single, ugly transaction, the kind that Guillermo del Toro referenced in his acceptance speech: you pour your heart and soul into something, giving away the best years of your life, and in the best case scenario, your Klout score goes up a few points.

This is what the Chainsmokers are talking about in “Sick Boy,” specifically during the bridge when Andrew Taggart sings “feed yourself on my life’s work/how many likes is my life worth?” Some reviewers glibly dismissed this as a cheap-shot at social media, and while they’re not entirely off-base–Taggart himself clearly has a lot of thoughts on how the internet has changed our concept of ‘fame‘–the placement of this couplet at the climax of a song clearly sung from the perspective of a self-loathing artist hints at a much deeper and much darker question: what, exactly, are we doing all this for?

This simple question is complicated by the fact that the Chainsmokers are the ones posing it (which is the way it usually goes.) Regardless of what their artistic legacy turns out to be, the Chainsmokers are not undiscovered or unrecognized. Even if you dispute the quality of their work, you can’t deny that people think about them. You’re thinking about them right now, in fact. People consume and appreciate their music. But success doesn’t change the math: in return for years of hard work, you get a few record-shaped trophies to hang on your wall. Sure, the money is nice, but money eventually runs out, and at the end, all you’re left with is an entry on the Billboard 100.

“Sick Boy” is a little too concerned with the narrator’s personal psychology to address the central irony of this situation, which is so diabolical that it’s almost funny. The often-terrifying whims of the social media algorithms notwithstanding, the attention and approval that modern-day creators are seeking doesn’t come from a powerful voice on high, it comes from the people around them. Fellow denizens of the internet, many of whom no doubt have something of their own to promote.

To call this devil merely inefficient is an understatement. He is devious and cruel, particularly in the way he exploits our unquestioned love of democracy. There are no more tastemakers, he claims, no more gatekeepers or cultural elite to designate what is and is not worthy. There are only the people around you, people just like you, who decide whether or not what you’ve made is worthy of their time — and, in most cases, they’ll just pass it by. All it costs them is a click, and they can’t even spare that.

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Movies Made Better: Pacific Rim

pacific rim 1

Dimensional Rift Discovered in Pacific Ocean

By PHILLIP MASON

Scientists are shocked to report that a “portal between worlds” has opened up somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. A research team first became aware of the rift due to the strange sonic readings from the area, but it was quickly discovered that objects, seemingly extra-dimensional in origin, are emerging from the portal.

In a twist that officials some have called “highly ironic” and others “just a regular old coincidence, thank you very much,” the only objects discovered thus far are copies of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim on DVD. The alien nature of these DVDs was first hypothesized based on the professional-style packaging.

“In our world, Pacific Rim was just released in theatres,” said one unnamed expert, “But all these DVDs are too good-looking to be pirated… our immediate conclusion was that they came from a universe where the movie was released roughly four to six months earlier.”

The release date isn’t the only thing that’s different about these alternate Pacific Rims: out of the four that have so far been discovered, none of them follows the same plot as the one from our universe (hereafter referred to as PR Prime).

A crack squad of film critics was called in to analyze the movies, and what they have reported back is shocking. Each of the alternate movies is unique, though there are some broad similarities. None of the alternate Pacific Rims include the five-year jump that follows the prologue in our version, and none of them make any mention of “the wall”, a plot point so nonsensical and inconsequential that readers would be forgiven for forgetting that it ever happened at all.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #1:

The first alternate Pacific Rim (PR) focuses on the opening years of the Human-Kaiju war, instead of breezing through it in a prologue. The very first scene is from the point of view of a young Asian girl (later revealed to be Mako), visiting San Francisco with her parents at the time of the first attack. We see the monster from her point of view, immediately establishing the sense of scale and giving us a personal investment in the devastation.

Some critics derided this plot as “obvious,” tossing around the term “destruction porn” without care. Still, few can deny that the spectacle is enthralling. With each subsequent attack, the death toll grows, and the governments of the world get more desperate, leading to the development of the Jaeger program. It’s thrilling and even a little uplifting to see so the people of the world put aside petty differences in race and creed and band together to save the planet. In this version of the film, the first Jaeger/Kaiju fight is built up to for nearly an hour, but when it comes, it is satisfying and exciting. The movie treats it as a spectacular event, from a technological standpoint and a humanistic one, as opposed to the “just another day at the office” tone of the first battle from PR Prime.

While the first alternate PR ends after a climactic victory that turns the tide for the humans, it ends before the war is actually won; a blatant sequel hook, according to critics, and widely regarded as this version’s biggest flaw.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #2:

The second version focuses on humanity’s last-ditch effort to defeat the Kaiju. In many ways, this version is the most similar to ours: the prologue explaining the opening years of the war is still intact, though it omits the confusing and unexplained details about how the humans “got good at winning” and turned the Kaiju into some sort of joke.

In the second alternate PR, Raleigh is still a washed-up pilot, agonizing over the death of his brother years earlier. Instead of leaving the Jaeger program, he continues to work within it as a technician. Mako works alongside Raleigh as a test pilot in this version, but Raleigh gives her little notice until he discovers that she lost her family in a Kaiju attack.

In PR #2, non-familial drifts are considered impossible; Dr. Geiszler is the only person to propose that two unrelated pilots could work together. Raleigh senses that his and Mako’s shared tragedy might give them the bond they need to drift successfully, and he gets a chance to put his plan into action when a surprise attack leaves Chuck Hansen and his father in critical condition.

In the beginning, Raleigh and Mako are terrible partners. Their first drift re-opens old wounds and leaves them both crippled with guilt and fear over their lost family, and they nearly trigger a nuclear meltdown because of it. Only when they accept each other’s companionship and trust are they able to work as a team; their victory over depression is tied directly to their victory over the Kaiju. Critics note that this plot point, while overly sentimental, does create emotional stakes for the characters not present in PR Prime, and allows the audience to better connect with their struggle.

Also in this version, the plan to drop the Jaeger’s core into the rift is a last-minute improvisation by Dr. Geiszler, who returns from his movie-long mission just as the final battle reaches its peak. Up until this point, no one has figured out a way to destroy the rift, thus adding suspense to the climax and not rendering Geiszler’s mission essentially pointless, as it was in PR Prime.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #3:

The third and final version to be discovered thus far has the most radically different plot from any other PR. Instead of focusing on a single man’s fall and redemption, the plot concerns a group of people that come together from different backgrounds to join the Jaeger program and defend the Earth. Raleigh’s character is completely removed, as is Chuck Hansen’s father. Greater development is given to Sasha and Alexis Kaidanovsky from Russia and the Wei Tang triplets from China.

Chuck takes on most of Raleigh’s role, though he receives less screen time. As in PR Prime, he is presented as arrogant and unlikeable, though the death of his father in the prologue lends him a degree of humanity. He is paired with Mako (a competent if untested pilot in this version, as opposed to the bumbling, simpering character from the original film) for the first half of the movie, but when two Kaiju attack at once, his inability to works with the others leads to his own death and the destruction of much of the base.

In the end, Stacker Pentecost partners with Mako for the final battle, their father/daughter relationship providing emotional depth that isn’t present in PR Rime’s under-developed love story. Stacker sacrifices himself to destroy the rift and protect Mako, while the Russians and the Chinese fight off the Class-5 Kaiju with their Jeagers instead of setting off a bomb.

When the rift-destroying explosion does come, both remaining Jaegers and the Kaiju are caught in the blast. The Kaiju is destroyed, but it’s not clear at first if any of the pilots made it out in time.

Mako’s escape-pod/life-boat surfaces and she looks around. For a moment, she is completely alone in the middle of the ocean. Almost on the verge of tears, she sees an escape pod surface, followed by another… then another… then three more in rapid succession. Mako is thrilled that her fellow pilots survived, but she’s obviously disappointed that Stacker didn’t make it. However, as Tendo Choi reveals, Stacker’s escape pod entered the rift moments before the explosion, leaving his survival doubtful but ultimately ambiguous.

Sociologists have been particularly fascinated by this version of the film, coming as it does from a society so different from ours, one in which the default point of view in popular culture is not that of the heterosexual white man.